Conservative and UKIP voters are particularly sceptical about the European Convention on Human Rights, and many doubt human rights even exist
The exit of pro-Europe MPs like Ken Clarke, Damian Green and Dominic Grieve in the cabinet reshuffle has fueled speculation that the PM will seek a showdown with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) before next year’s election. The government reportedly plans to introduce a so-called “British Bill of Rights” that will establish the supremacy of Parliament over Strasbourg courts on human rights questions, in an effort to make it easier to deport criminals and suspected criminals like Abu Qatada.
Dominic Grieve, who had been the government’s top lawyer, has argued that challenging the Strasbourg court in such a way could get the UK thrown out of the Council of Europe and even jeopardise its relationship with the European Union.
YouGov polling for the Sunday Times on the ECHR finds that the British public is divided on the question of whether the UK should stay in (38%) or withdraw from the convention (41%), which gives the European Court of Human Rights its authority.
The latest survey indicates a small movement in opinion away from leaving the convention, something that 48% supported a year ago. The shift in feelings about the European human rights court resembles shifting views about the European Union. Support for leaving the EU is at 39% this week, down from 43-45% in July 2013.
Do human rights really exist?
Public opinion on the ECHR also takes on a familiar political outline: UKIP and Conservative voters want to leave, while Labour and Lib Dems want to stay in. However, the survey finds that voters disagree along similar lines when it comes to a deeper, existential question about human rights.
The (58%) majority of British voters do tend to believe human rights, rights afforded to people simply by virtue of their humanity, “really exist”. A quarter (26%) of voters take the opposite view. But, as with the ECHR and the EU, Conservative and UKIP voters are particularly sceptical about the existence of human rights. Compared to 68% of Labour voters and 83% of Lib Dems, only half of Conservatives and four in ten UKIP voters believe human rights exist. Supporters of UKIP are the only group polled who tend to say human rights do not really exist, by 46-41%.
A similar trend appears when voters are asked whether it can ever be justified to violate someone’s human rights. Labour and Lib Dem voters are divided on the question, while around two-thirds of Tory and UKIP supporters say it can sometimes be justified to violate someone’s human rights.
However public understanding of what human rights actually look like, and what it means to violate them, is complicated. Significant minorities of the public – and even around a fifth of those people who previously said “it can never be justified” to violate someone’s human rights – say the right to a fair trial and freedom from torture should not be protected for suspected terrorists.